Updated story: Developers propose new town square and mixed-use building in downtown Crookston

Jess Bengtson
CHEDA's Craig Hoiseth, far right, discusses the proposed project for Crookston with Monday's tour group at the Selkirk on 4th in Grand Forks

    Could downtown Crookston see new development with a mixed-use building comprised of apartments and commercial space, plus a new town square boosted by an amphitheater all facing the Red Lake River? The proposed project could go from thought to reality if the city jumps on board.

    A group of community leaders including representatives from the Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority (CHEDA), Crookston City Council, and Downtown Crookston Development Partnership took a tour of the Selkirk building on 4th Street in Grand Forks Monday to get an idea of what developers, Dakota Commercial and Community Contractors Inc., have created there which is similar to what is proposed for Crookston.

    Note: Dakota Commercial’s Kevin Ritterman told the Times the Selkirk building, named after a Selkirk steamboat captain, Alexander Griggs, whose efforts earned him the title of “Father of Grand Forks”, boasts 18 condos, 7,500 square feet of commercial and two levels of parking. It consists of five levels with condos on the upper three levels with private balconies that overlook downtown Grand Forks.

    The proposed mixed-use building in Crookston would be located along Ash Street between Fletcher and Robert Street, and the new town square would be located at the corner of Ash and Robert where the former American Legion building currently sits. Approximately 38 apartments, with a mix of one, two and three-bedroom units, would be located on the upper floors of the building and around 7,700 square feet of commercial space is proposed for the first floor which could be used for a community center, restaurant or other commercial opportunities. The building would also feature underground parking for the housing units and a rooftop terrace for gathering space.

    “It certainly would be an asset to our community, but a lot has to happen to make it happen,” said Ward 2 City Council Member Steve Erickson during a special CHEDA meeting Tuesday.

    Community Contractors Inc. President Craig Tweten mentioned during the tour he’s been working with Hoiseth for “about” two years on potential projects and his company, and Dakota Commercial, have invested around $20,000-$25,000 of their own money researching and asking for bids for the downtown Crookston mixed-use building project.

    “We are the ones taking a gamble on it, so we need to make it work,” Tweten told Monday’s group bluntly. “This would be a private public partnership, a “P3”, working together and bringing this to you. We really want to make this a successful project.”

    “It’s a pretty large lift for a developer to want to come to Crookston and put that type of money into our community,” said Hoiseth at the special CHEDA meeting Tuesday. “To hear that, it just shows you what it takes up front for development work, just to make a project presentable.”

    He also mentioned that making it happen is “impossible” this year, given the pandemic, and doing something this year was the initial goal.

    “It’s possible things could be in order by late summer in order to start construction in 2021,” Hoiseth explained. “Overall, it’s a very exciting project.”

    So, what’s the project going to cost and how will it be laid out? The total cost would be over $9 million for both the mixed-use building and town square, and there would most likely be a 15-year lease for the building. Dakota Commercial and Community Contractors say they would ask for a 20-year TIF (tax increment financing) from the city, look for grants from the city and state, and suggested that a bond would be the least expensive way to do it with the least amount of interest.

    Crookston City Council Member Bobby Baird asked Dakota Commercial’s Ritterman about the approximate cost to rent a two-bedroom unit in the proposed complex and was told “around the $900 area,” which CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth called “a little light” compared to other new apartment complexes meaning it would be affordable.

    The developers have already had discussions with utility providers and will look to extend a purchase agreement with the owner of the American Legion building should the city move forward with the project. Ash Street will also need to be reconstructed, but City Engineer Rich Clauson reportedly mentioned to Tweten that they might be eligible for a state grant to minimize or eliminate that cost for the city. Developers would keep two-way lanes on Ash, add diagonal parking closest to the building and square, and eliminate parking on the river side of the street.

    Details show the proposed town square would feature a “bandshell” or amphitheater with large screen and technology for lights and sound, a digital advertisement board that would be located near the street for easy viewing, and room for “hundreds” of guests with even more space available if Ash Street was blocked off for special events. Renderings showed summer and winter activities including concerts and an ice skating rink.

    If the project is approved, construction could begin in 2021 and be completed by 2022. Hoiseth called the project a “priority we continue to push forward on” adding that Monday’s tour was “another big step in that direction.”

    Note: Community Contractors has a lot of experience in Crookston with the newest residence halls at the University of Minnesota Crookston and Agassiz Townhomes. JLG Architects designed the Downtown Crookston Master Plan in 2017 and has consulted with Widseth, formerly called Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates, on the proposed mixed-use building and new town square. “It’s a really good team they’ve assembled to get the project done,” Hoiseth said at the special CHEDA meeting.